catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 23 :: 2008.12.19 — 2009.01.02


The journey in…and back out

I wanted to fit in; at least I thought I did, in some way.  It all started nearly five years ago when I went to the writers’ conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I went to sessions and wrote, went to sessions and wrote, got on an airplane and wrote.  It was as though a dam had been breached, the words and images and pain filling my spiral bound notebook with inked words not big enough and not written quickly enough to stanch the flow.

Now, it is not as though I had never written before, because I had.  I had gone to graduate school and earned a Masters in Creative Writing from Binghamton University within a few years of my return from Africa.  I wrote a lot during those years of schooling, but graduation stemmed the tide of creative writing.  The current shifted and words flowed out as syllabi and curricula and counselor’s notes recording meetings with hurting students.

Then I went to Calvin, and the air there was filled with words, beautiful intoxicating words, hope-generating words breathed into the air from people like me, but better.  People who had thoughts and wrote them down and passed them on, sharing them with me, even though they didn’t know me, would never know I sat before them soaking up their every syllable like the desert at the front edge of rainy season.  People who made me feel like I belonged there, belonged at least on the outside edge looking in longingly.

So I went home, and God ordained that I would engage in the waltz readers do in front of a magazine rack, “Excuse me, excuse me, could you hand me that one over there?”  Only he asked me exactly what I was looking for and why, and I told this stranger about Calvin and about writing.  I said I was looking for a good journal for writers, and he took me by the hand and told me I had to meet these people who were sitting together around a table at Borders.  They too were writers who met every Saturday, reading their own work and critiquing each other’s, and I found another place I belonged, at least for a while, and again, at the edges.

I live where 95% of people are Catholic, and the writers’ group was no different.  Most of them had gone to Catholic schools, from K through 12, and some through Catholic University.  Their shared religious background hadn’t given them much more than fodder for scary nun stories, but they let me in the group anyway.  I felt like their token Protestant.  And it scares me to say, but I almost lived for Saturdays.

Then our fearless leader, invited a new guest with an amazing pedigree as a writer-and an ego to match.  It didn’t take long before our “old” and “new” leaders had a falling out, and we all moved…except Lou.

I asked Lou, a fellow writer in the group, whether he was going to stay or go.  I had grown to appreciate him, as had my husband.  He was a director of local theatre and we had attended some of his productions.  But Lou said he was going to attend a different group.

Now I have to say that, as a practicing believer, my work differed from a lot of the work read at group-language and topics, for instance.  But they substituted the word “apricot” for the most colorful words in their writing and poured as thoughtfully over my work as anybody else’s.  So I felt as though I belonged.

Then, the page turned.  The new leader was something of a fraud.  Oh, he had stacks of money, appeared to have had a great education and actually was a talented writer.  However, his Wikipedia entry couldn’t be validated and was taken down, and his books, at least some, had been self-published, which should have been admitted up front.  And now that he was the leader, the prompts attempted to take us places I didn’t want to go.

I had loved the first book he gave me, Alone in Eden, a wonderful fiction of a third son Adam and Eve had.  It was a great tool for teaching voice, but I had to give back the next book.  I didn’t think there was space in my head for those words, and God’s words.  It has been several weeks since that old feeling returned, that feeling I first experienced as the country girl who got placed in the accelerated program with the town kids-that feeling of being an outsider.

So I sit here at the computer, writing these lines instead of writing for the prompt he sent me this week, when I didn’t show up:

“Alan. Alan. Why? Why are you doing this?” she said. Relaxing the pressure, he said, “Guess.”

I’ve been here before, as an outsider, and it’s not always a bad place to be.

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